Another day in the life of an African-American beauty parlor fighting urban renewal.
This is because "The Salon" is based on a play, the old-school kind where all of life's triumphs and heartbreaks are pushing against the confines of one room and a fourth wall. And not just any play, but Shelly Garrett's "Beauty Shop," that Valhalla of vivacious African-American comedies categorized by the dismissive catchphrase "chitlin' circuit."
It's easy to get dizzy from the multiplicity of "Beauty Shops," seeing that the play was released on DVD in a theatrical version starring its author in 2005, the same year the title was co-opted for an unrelated hit movie starring Queen Latifah. There was also a would-be "Beauty Shop" the previous year that changed its name to "Hair Show." Oh, have we mentioned "Barber Shop" yet?
We probably should, since the writer of that feisty male "Beauty Shop" and a credible sequel was recruited to rewrite and direct Garrett's original hit for the screen. Given all the huffing and puffing that has gone into reinventing the wheel, it is little wonder that Mark Brown's retitled "The Salon" arrives as something of an anticlimax, its once-mirthful edge dulled by the overuse of the very tropes it helped usher in.
Like the sentimental play that inspired this film, the beauty shop owned by Vivica A. Fox's working mom Jenny is an endangered species, threatened by urban developers. Holding up against the decline of its withered Baltimore neighborhood, Jenny's salon provides its clients and eight employees with a fortress of dysfunctional family spirit.
The air in this salon can get pretty thick. The token straight-guy haircutter (Dondre Whitfield) rags on the token gay guy (De'Angelo Wilson). The white-chick clients gets grief from gal haircutters, who jump on them for stealing their men. One beautician fields rage from her abusive husband (Terrence Howard, in a listless cameo), while another takes punches from a client whose husband is having an affair with her. And everyone dumps on Halle Berry, who they claim won an Oscar for getting naked with a white guy.
People walk in, people walk out, people change the subject. When things get dull, everyone dances.
Brown directs all of this with the sort of calculated nonchalance he brought to his script for "Barber Shop," as if we were catching life in the act of happening. But "The Salon" lacks the oomph of that film, which benefited from crisper comic dialogue and the galvanizing central presence of Cedric the Entertainer. In lieu of Cedric, we get the spirited Kym Whitley as the shop's resident big girl.
What may be most crucially absent from this beauty shop is the familial give and take that occurs between live actors and a theater audience. Without that, "The Salon" meanders, its jokes and insults tumbling before us onto the floor like so much shorn hair.